Are Pornography and Marriage Substitutes for Young Men? (2016)

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Eastern Economic Journal

June 2016, Volume 42, Issue 3, pp 317-334

Michael Malcolm, George Naufal


Substitutes for marital sexual gratification may impact the decision to marry. Proliferation of the Internet has made pornography an increasingly low-cost substitute. We investigate the effect of Internet usage, and of pornography consumption specifically, on the marital status of young men. We show that increased Internet usage is negatively associated with marriage formation. Pornography consumption specifically has an even stronger effect. Instrumental variables and a number of robustness checks suggest that the effect is causal.


pornography divorce marital formation

JEL Classifications

J12 O33


As changes in the accessibility of pornography have occurred coincident to large changes in marital behavior, the causal relationship between the two is a natural question. Between 2000 and 2004, the General Social Survey (GSS) asked a series of detailed questions about Internet usage; it also records comprehensive demographic information, including marital status. Using these microdata we find that for young men there is a large degree of substitutability between Internet and pornography usage and marriage — heavy Internet usage generally, and use of pornography specifically, are associated with lower participation in marriages. We employ instrumental variables and a number of robustness checks, all of which suggest that this is a causal effect and not merely the endogenous relationship that married men are less likely to look at pornography, or some kind of unobserved selection issue that distinguishes men who use pornography from men who do not use pornography.

We assert that increasing ease of accessing pornography is an important factor underlying the decline in marriage formation and stability. As policymakers seek to understand rapidly evolving family structures, technological change is surely an important element of these shifts. Specifically, to the extent that policymakers treat family arrangements as a control variable important for social welfare, and with a number of open public policy questions relating to Web access, understanding the underlying the connection between the two is critical.